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Local

Study will monitor traffic flow at Berg, Woodrow Wilson

Changes to transportation result in more parent drop-offs, impeded flow

Poor traffic flow at Berg Middle School and Woodrow Wilson Elementary School has prompted the Newton Community School District Board of Education to accept a proposal from engineering consultant Bolton & Menk, Inc. to conduct a traffic study at both campuses.
Poor traffic flow at Berg Middle School and Woodrow Wilson Elementary School has prompted the Newton Community School District Board of Education to accept a proposal from engineering consultant Bolton & Menk, Inc. to conduct a traffic study at both campuses.

Traffic flow at Berg Middle School and Woodrow Wilson Elementary will be the focus of a study conducted by engineering consultant Bolton & Menk, Inc., the proposal of which was approved Monday, Oct. 12, by the Newton Community School District Board of Education.

NCSD Superintendent Tom Messinger said this traffic study could start right away at both campuses. A representative of Bolton & Menk could discuss the initial results the first week of November. The finalized report would be released one week later.

After speaking with Bolton & Menk and Newton Police Chief Rob Burdess, administrators have thoughts on how to direct traffic differently at these two schools. However, the school district would rather have an official study conducted, which could affect locations of bus and parent vehicle pickups.

“It would be a pretty good sized change,” Messinger said. “We want to make sure if we’re going to put a change in place that big that we’re doing it right. With the middle school, that was the other place where we had some serious concerns about the traffic … It might mean rerouting traffic in different ways.”

Problems with traffic flow at Berg Middle School is nothing new to the district. Last year, when the new middle school finished construction, there were complaints of slow traffic flow, prompting faculty to develop a temporary plan until the new parking lot was constructed.

Messinger said the district has thought about using temporary stop signs or enforcing a one way route. Since that would be a more “serious change to traffic flow,” the superintendent felt a professional study would be better suited before the district makes any of those alterations.

Berg Middle School and Woodrow Wilson Elementary seem to be the two campuses where there are the most issues or concerns. From Messinger’s understanding, the latter school has had traffic flow issues in the past; the parking lot of which is substantially smaller and provides one point of entry.

Messinger said if traffic flow at Woodrow Wilson Elementary were kept as is, traffic would come to a “complete stop” in some areas.

“The problem has really kind of become exaggerated this year as a result of the changing of who’s eligible to ride buses ... It’s definitely caused a major traffic backup of car traffic,” Messinger said, referencing the transportation changes that had come about because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On its website, the Newton school district encourages families to consider alternate transportation other than school bussing if at all possible, in an attempt to reduce exposure to COVID-19. Buses this year are also loaded at half capacity or less.

Elementary and middle school students living less than two miles from their attendance center must walk or have other means of transportation. High schoolers residing less than three miles from their campus must walk, as well. Administrators said they will reevaluate this measure quarterly.

However, Messinger isn’t convinced these traffic flow issues would go away if the school district changed its social distancing and other “Return to Learn Plan” rules introduced before the start of the school year.

“If the policy stays the same, this would be a long-term problem that we’re trying to solve,” he said. “If the board policy were to go back the other direction and go back to not following the distance guidelines that we have in place now, I believe there would still be some issues —they just wouldn’t be quite as big.”

School board member Graham Sullivan said she spoke with Burdess and found out the district has not had a traffic study conducted in more than 20 years — at any of the buildings. Regardless, Sullivan said the study would be helpful and could help find some improvements.

Robyn Friedman, president of the NCSD Board of Education, said having a formal study “makes a lot of sense.” To fund this traffic study, the school district would use general fund board money.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

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